May 9, 2019, 10:56 am CDT
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Many young lawyers in Florida are having some misgivings about their choice of a legal career or their particular field of practice.
A survey by the Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, released earlier this year, asked the lawyers whether, if they had to do it over again, they would still enroll in law school, knowing what they know now. Thirty percent said they would not enroll, while 32% said maybe they would still enroll.
Thirty-three percent said they were very or somewhat unsatisfied with their career at this time.
Forty-one percent have considered transitioning to a different career, and 35% have considered transitioning to a different field of practice. Forty-two percent have not considered a change. The respondents were allowed to select more than one answer.
Nearly 2,000 lawyers responded to the survey, taken in November and December 2018. Lawyers surveyed had been practicing for less than five years or were younger than 36. The Florida Bar News and Law.com have coverage.
Issues affecting the young lawyers included large student debt, high hours and difficult work environments.
The median outstanding student loan amount was $150,000. Twenty-one percent worked 60 or more hours per week, while 34% worked 50 to 59 hours per week, and 35% worked 40 to 49 hours per week.
Some lawyers elaborated in comments in a narrative portion of the survey, according to the Florida Bar News coverage.
“Being a lawyer is not what I thought it would be,” one lawyer wrote. “I’m exhausted all the time.”
“Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride for becoming a lawyer, I actively advise people not to make the same mistake,” said another lawyer who reported a high amount of debt.
“Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse were a part of daily life at this firm, so much so, I worried constantly for the well-being of everyone there, including myself,” another lawyer wrote.
Mental health issues were a problem cited by many of the lawyers during law practice. Thirty-nine percent reported feeling anxiety and depression that significantly impacted their job or lasted more than four weeks; while 19% said they experienced anxiety only, and 4% reported depression only. Thirty-two percent did not experience either, and 6% weren’t sure.
Fewer young lawyers reported anxiety and depression during law school. Twenty-eight percent said they experienced anxiety and depression in school, 20% experienced anxiety only, and 3% experienced depression only. Only 5% weren’t sure, with 43% experiencing neither.
Thirty-nine percent of the respondents said they had experienced a work-related traumatic event during their legal career that caused prolonged symptoms, such as flashbacks, anxiety when triggering events happen, heart palpitations and panic attacks.
Asked whether stress or anxiety ever caused them to leave employment at a law firm or law office, 17% said it was a primary factor for them leaving a law job, and 20% said it was one of several factors for leaving.
Among those who had experienced mental health concerns, many took steps to help. Sixty-seven percent responded by seeking treatment from a licensed therapist, counselor or psychologist; 52% exercised regularly; and 37% used other self-help steps, such as meditation or journaling. But 36% reported a less helpful response—they started consuming or increased their consumption of alcohol.
The president of the Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, Christian George, told the Florida Bar News that the survey shows that the state bar is on the right track by making mental health and wellness a top priority.
“We need to continue the conversation,” George said. “People shouldn’t be afraid to seek treatment for these issues or to be open and honest with their firms, their law partners, their friends.”
George also pointed to some positive survey findings. Seventy-nine percent of the young lawyers said they get a sense of personal accomplishment from work, and 66% said they enjoy performing the day-to-day work of the job.
Fifty-two percent of the survey respondents were employed as associates, 13% as government attorneys, and 9% as sole practitioners.
Other study findings included:
• 36% think the legal profession in Florida is becoming somewhat less desirable, and 22% think it is becoming much less desirable.
• 7% took no vacation in 2018, and 13% took less than a week. Thirty-two percent said they didn’t take more vacation because of time constraints, 18% cited annual leave limits, 17% cited financial limitations, and 15% cited pressure from their employer.
• 66% said their employer supports lawyer and staff health and wellness.
• 63% are able to balance work and personal life.
• 54% said they are fairly compensated for their work.